You can’t make the most of your relocation to the United States if you don’t know the road rules; but doing so is tricky, because the invisible hand of culture drives behavior in ways you never imagined. When a culture clash occurs, it’s probably because you judged someone’s tendencies based on your expectations. Misunderstandings can cause mutual frustration and a distressing effect on your time here. Culture is learned behavior and changing takes time.
Expatriation is no longer an experience. It’s a 21st-century skill that will keep on giving, long after your stay ends. Whims like learning what makes the other guy tick, getting local knowledge, or building your empathy chip can feel like guilty pleasures in the moment (everybody loves anthropology!) can actually wind up making you more marketable, along with fluency in a foreign language, not to mention the outrageously relevant experience and enthusiasm for our world.
Culture shock happens
While riding the waves of culture, you will follow a natural pattern of highs and lows. The high points of excitement and interest are usually be followed by depression, disorientation, and frustration. Everyone goes through these ups and downs at different times, in different degrees, and for different lengths of time, but it’s a necessary. Part of the process of transition from one mindset to another; one culture to another. The challenge is to be aware of it. And ask for help to continue to cope and adapt.
The main challenge for expats is the negative impact culture shock. Not the initial anticipation of a new way of life or the elation of adventure. Sure, you may be surprised (or delighted!) to see deep fried chicken feet being grilled on steamy street in Bangkok, but that’s not the problem. That’s a reaction (to culture). Culture shock is a distressing condition caused by it after the honeymoon is over. This challenging phase two is marked by the anxieties of being unable to interact or be understood in an unfamiliar environment. It can lead to feeling disoriented, anxious, frustrated, depressed, and isolated. The emotions that go with it aren’t all negative though! In phase one, you were elated and had a positive attitude about your new home, and you were forgiving of small annoyances and inconveniences, chalking them up to the adventure. Later however, after the superficial adjustment phase, those minor annoyances will make you downright angry because everything is harder when you don’t know the unwritten rules. This phase leads to the last stage of recovery. Your anger and frustration decreases. Your sense of humor returns and you start ordering that deep fried chicken feet in the local Thai dialect and enjoy it.